When I was growing up, I used to ask my parents when Children's Day was. After all, we had Mother's Day and Father's Day, but what about a day for children? As you can probably guess, their half-amused, half-exasperated answer was "EVERY day is children's day!" In fact, though, Universal Children's Day is November 20, a day when we reflect on and promote the rights and well-being of children around the world. While a great deal of progress has been made in the U.S. and globally to give children better lives, nearly 8 million children under the age of five still die each year mostly from preventable causes.
A quarter of these children's deaths could be prevented with vaccines. In countries such as India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, access to vaccines means the difference between life and death, a healthy life or a lifetime of struggle. Vaccines open the door to the milestones all children should get to celebrate: their first steps, first words, their first day of school.
With immunization coverage growing from 20 percent to over 80 percent since 1980, access to vaccines globally has grown significantly in the last decade. Yet despite these gains, one in five children around the world still lacks access to the vaccines needed to ward off diseases like measles, pneumonia, polio or diarrhea- and every 20 seconds a child dies because of this gap.
Just a few decades ago, there was a serious disparity in vaccination rates in the U.S. In the 1960s, half of the measles cases in Los Angeles were among African Americans and another 20 percent among Latinos, even though they made up only a quarter of the city's population. The situation was similar in cities like Philadelphia and St. Louis. However, increased attention and investment led to improved vaccination rates in the U.S. For example, as a recent post on this blog demonstrated, flu vaccination rates among minority populations have improved significantly.
Shot@Life, a new campaign of the United Nations Foundation, is based on a similar principle of equity and closing the gap. It addresses this global health disparity by educating, connecting and empowering Americans to champion vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save and improve the lives of children around the world. Our goal is to give all children-no matter where they live-an equal chance at a healthy life.
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